Physically disabled people have a hard time in getting even their basic needs completed. They are heavily dependent on a caregiver for help. Disabled people with weak motor skills don’t have any independence in doing their daily activities. There is a lot of scope for technology to assist them in having better lives, but so far little progress has been made.

As of 2011, there were 26 million disabled people in India, out of which 18 million were in rural India. Anybody can be affected by disability irrespective of their race, nationality or gender. Other than the physical trauma that comes with disability, there is also psychological trauma that is caused to the disabled person having to completely depend on a caregiver for every small thing. This often leads to depression in the disabled person.

Caregivers are also under immense pressure to ensure that all the needs of the disabled person are met. They are responsible for assisting the disabled in performing routine activities such as eating, bathing, changing clothes, changing their posture and moving from one location. Giving the power to the disabled person to control some amount of their activities makes them happier and also decreases the pressure on the caregiver.

At the 2015 BioAsia Devthon, B.H.V Manikanta Swamy, Vijaya Bhaskar and Sharath Chandra teamed up to create an interesting prototype that was declared the winner of the event.

  • They idea was to create a cost-effective device that could help disabled people manage their food without help from a caregiver. There were already competing products in the market, but they were quite expensive and out of reach for those who needed it most.
  • The primary users of this product were those suffering from high-level spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, and muscular diseases. Including those afflicted with cerebral palsy who cannot move their arms and hands. Their upper limbs are not fully functional but their feet were absolutely normal.
  • The first prototype was a manually operated mechanical device that can be operated using the feet only. The device works similar to that of a robotic arm. There are five movements that it is capable of executing: flexion, extension, abduction, adduction and rotation.
  • They used a DC geared motors along with some electronics components for power supply and supporting hardware material. They also added several features to perfect the product even further. The food container can now rotate so that food can be mixed easily. It can also collect the food from any place of the bowl and the table’s height can be adjusted.

The Indian market for disability and assisting devices and technologies is pegged at Rs 4,500 crores. This feeding device prototype has numerous possibilities for improvement. The robotic controls which it uses can be improved to a higher level of precision. It could also be connected with a mobile phone which could become the one stop control centre for the device. Also cameras could be used to calculate the distance and relay the information to the robotic arms.

“Technology should be like oxygen, ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.” — Chris Lehmann

This device also has possibilities to be tied to connected technology using the Internet of Things. So that a person can use voice commands to start the movement of the feeder without any physical contact itself. It can also be connected to a number of other devices so that even without the presence of a caregiver, a disabled person can manage all their food consumption on time.

The self feeding feeder will spark off a lot of different ideas to create products that will empower disabled people without motor skills. Thus empowering them to get their needs completed without any physical or psychological strain. The end goal will always remain to ensure that technology becomes a partner in the day to day activities of a disabled person without being obtrusive.

To share your ideas and participate, visit our Initiatives page.

Originally Published on April 05, 2016

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